Cuba's Famous Vintage Cars Could Find Their Way Off The Island
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
On the streets of Cuba you'll see a lot of classic American cars - think Ford Fairlanes, Studebakers, Chevy Bel Airs and the like - that's out of necessity rather than choice. But as NPR's Sonari Glinton reports, improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba could lead to an influx of newer models.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: This comparison helped me understand a lot of what we all need to know about the Cuban car market. The average age of a car on the road in the U.S. is 11.4 years old, but because of the embargo in Cuba it's more like 60 - could even be, like, 65.
BILL VISNIC: You've got sort of the Galapagos of the car market. Nothing's happened there for 50 years.
GLINTON: Bill Visnic, with edmunds.com, says just like the Galapagos Islands where animals evolved in isolation, the car market in Cuba did the same. Visnic says for the Cuban car market to move even a little towards the future a whole lot has to happen.
VISNIC: Everything is a problem, so you have to establish importation, distribution, sales, all that would have to be started from the ground up.
GLINTON: Alec Gutierrez, with Kelley Blue Book, says it is way too early for auto enthusiasts or executives to start licking their chops over a potential Cuban car market.
ALEC GUTIERREZ: As an auto industry professional, as it relates to Cuba, I really have more questions than I have answers at this point.
GLINTON: And his list of questions is long.
GUTIERREZ: What does the automotive population look like out there? What state of repair are these vehicles in? What is the sort of demand that exists from the average Cuban household? What's the market potential, right, knowing that there's only 11 million people living in Cuba? Are they even interested in new vehicles? Can they afford new vehicles? Is this a used vehicle marketplace?
GLINTON: OK. That was about 18 seconds of the three minutes of questions that Gutierrez had. Now, in the past the Soviets, and now the Chinese, have supplied Cuba with some new cars. The chance of a new car market opening in the next few years is almost zero, says Larry Dominique with truecar.com.
LARRY DOMINIQUE: Because there is no infrastructure for a new car, right? There's no new car dealerships. There's no servicing points. There's very few gas stations. So I think it would take years for the infrastructure to build up to support a fairly robust marketplace. But, certainly, if the marketplace opened up, what a great opportunity for used - good used - car export.
KARL BRAUER: Right, there'd be a much bigger market for used vehicles for Cubans because they're less expensive and, of course, there'd be a market for replacement parts on the vehicles that are already there.
GLINTON: Karl Brauer, with Kelley Blue Book, says the first things likely to get to Cuba are desperately needed replacement parts. Cuban mechanics and car owners, through feats of engineering, have been making parts on their own. Karl Brauer is also a vintage car guy. He says a whole island full of vintage cars could be a boon to collectors, but...
BRAUER: The downside is it's going to be a well-used car. It's not going to be any kind of museum quality. It's going to be, you know, driver quality, as they say, if not worse than driver quality because it's had to be a real car all these decades.
GLINTON: Because who wouldn't want a 1957 Cadillac Coupe Deville, right? One with a million miles on the odometer - that's a whole other story. Sonari Glinton, NPR News.
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